Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Antarctic Echinoderms! Courtesy of the British Antarctic Survey

The British Antarctic Survey has recently put out a spread of cool Antarctic invertebrate images. These include this "sea pig" (a sea cucumber, Family Elpidiidae- probably related to the deep-sea Scotoplanes)
(photos by BAS photographer Peter Bucktrout)

What they are calling Gorgonocephalus, (an ophiuroid) apparently perched on an octocoral...
(photos by BAS photographer Peter Bucktrout)

The ubiquitous Antarctic crinoid Promachocrinus, which may be composed of a cryptic species complex
(photos by BAS photographer Peter Bucktrout)

....and this isnt an echinoderm (its an Antarctic amphipod)..but damn. Its cool, isn't it?
(photos by BAS photographer Peter Bucktrout)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Holiday Echinoblog! Plush/Fuzzy EchinoSculpture at Cal Academy in San Francisco!!

Whenever I get to visit San Francisco, I make a point to stop by the Invertebrate Zoology Department at the California Academy of Sciences. THE Natural History Museum in the Bay Area!

Where else can you find giant 2 foot long models of beach-hopping amphipods wearing Santa hats!???

This visit, I've been visiting my former Masters advisor Rich Mooi and met his very talented and creative students who had created a pair of holiday-themed sea urchin art/plush/fuzzy echinoSculpture!!

Kristin Vollrath, who works on Paleozoic sea urchins served up this Christmas-colored Faux cidaroid...
Where the indubitable Ms. Kelly Walsh, who is working on miniaturized sea urchins, created this wonderous purple plush Strongylocentrotus purpuratus!!
Side by side....
Kelly gets extra points for having this unique nautaloid-ammonite plushie!

Happy Holidays from the Echinoblog!!

Monday, December 14, 2009

December Edition! Sea Urchin Videos!!

Today! Some Sea Urchin Videos! Enjoy!

A recent report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on newly created sea urchin barrens in Tasmania. Based on this Dive Survey website, I believe the species is Centrostephanus rodgersii? If someone knows better-please let me know! SEE? This is why common names suck. Multiple news surveys and NO scientific names.

An outstanding series of sea urchin developmental images. From Southern California-so I think Strongylocentrotus??

High Def Fire Urchin! (Astropyga, I think)

More Fire Urchins! (Astropyga, I think) from Manadao Beach, North Sulawasi.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

WEIRD SPINES!! Sometimes there's even questions the Echinoblog can't answer!

So, the other day, a colleague of mine, sent a pic of the above spines, collected from Wake Island in the tropical Pacific. They are deformed in ways that I am completely unfamiliar.

Here's a picture of the species that they spines are from (Heterocentrotus trigonarius)
Anyone out there have any experience with weird-ass melted sea urchin spines??

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Echinoderm Christmas Tree?? Antarctic Cidaroid Sea Urchins!!!

Today, another SPECIAL Holiday-Themed Echinoblog!!! Allow me to explain!

I was just thinking about this:
Are there any kinds of echinoderms that are kinda like Christmas trees? They originate in cold places and you hang all sorts of weird crap on their branches???


Antarctic Cidaroid SEA URCHINS!!

Most people by now are probably saying "Okay, I'm not sure I understand a LOT of those words you just said"

So here's the Breakdown: There's sea urchins that live in Antarctica (and elsewhere-mostly in the deep-sea) that belong to a group known as the Cidaridae.

Cidaroid sea urchins are one of the more prominent groups found in the cold waters of the Antarctic and do some odd things. But what makes them of interest here is the LACK of skin on their spines!

"What? I didn't know sea urchins had skin on their spines????"

YES. Here is close up pic of a sea urchins spine. Notice the blue line around it?? ALL echinoderms, including sea urchins are actually COVERED by a thin, ciliated epidermis.

This epidermis is the primary reason most echinoderms you see don't get covered in encrusting organisms like algae or small grit and how stuff seems to flow over their body surface.
ALL groups of sea urchins have this epidermis EXCEPT for one group! The Cidaroids. Strangely enough, cidaroid sea urchins LACK a layer of epidermal covering on their spines!!!

As a result, some cidaroid sea urchin spines have become the substrate for encrusting animals that settle as larvae and cover over the spines!!

Thus, the sea urchin becomes a kind of host for a huge diversity of organisms! (shown here-and below is Austrocidaris)
What kinds of animals hang off these sea urchin spines the same way that lights and holly balls hang off a Christmas tree branch??
Here we got serpulid worm tubes of various sizes
....AND we got SPONGES that form around the spines, in and around the worm tubes!!

In addition to those-other encrusting animals recorded living on these spines include bryozoans, hydroids, small crustaceans, sea cucumbers (!), bivalves and foraminifera!

Multiple kinds of cidaroid sea urchins are known to host these many animal "decorations"! The one shown here is Austrocidaris, but others include (but are not limited to) Rhynchocidaris and Ctenocidaris.

But these "decorations" do MORE then just give the urchin that fine finished look!!! They can actually AFFECT the diversity of the area around it!!!

One study by Heterier et al. which focused on cidaroid sea urchins in the Weddel Sea found that the presence of these sea urchins actually PROMOTED higher species richness of these encrusting animals and increased their overall abundance!!

How does THAT work??
It turns out that the sea urchin spine surface is a ATTRACTIVE surface for encrusting animals to live!!

Most of these encrusting animals are filter feeders (i.e., they pick food out of the water) and living on sea urchin spines lifts them into the water water column and off the gritty, dirty bottom! Its all about prime real estate baby!

So, it is hypothesized that these different species of encrusting critters are actually MORE EFFECTIVE at selectively locating sea urchin spines to settle upon then on general rocky bottoms! These species become more "specialized" in finding a place to live.
BUT, the more "generalized" encrusting animals are left to settle on rocks in the surrounding area. So, the presence of urchins AND rocks apparently separates different SPECIES of these animals!

However, it does not alter the actual composition of overall diversity (i.e., many different kinds of foraminiferan species may settle but not different phyla of organisms).

So, the "decorations" on some of these cidaroid sea urchins can change (however subtly) the composition and richness of its surroundings !!!


Can a "normal" Christmas tree do that?
You decide.

Happy Holidays from the Echinoblog!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The 2009 Echinoblog Book XMAS List!

So, at around this time last year I blogged about a selection of echinoderm-themed books that I could recommend that might be useful or at least enjoyable to the general public as well as academic personnel. For this reason, I have avoided listing textbooks and/or taxonomic monographs.

Maybe these are for the echinoderm enthusiast in your personal social circle or family? Or maybe its just a special somethin' somethin' for you? Or you just want to recommend a bunch of books to your local natural history library?? Who knows??

As with last year I have some notes on book selection:
My criteria were:
  1. The books included echinoderms in some dedicated way
  2. Books were widely available (usually through Amazon.com)
  3. I can in some way vouch for the starfish identifications OR I think the book has some overall value...
  4. Disclaimer: There's a lot of ID guide/field guide books that I either use and/or recommend-but these fit the immediate criteria. The absence of a book is not meant as a slight. It may simply be out of print, hard to come by, etc.
...and AWAY we go!!

1. Sea Stars: Echinoderms of the Asia/Indo-Pacific by Neville Coleman
What it is: Noted marine biology photographer and naturalist Neville Coleman assembles 136 pages packed full of tropical-temperate shallow-water echinoderms!! Starfish, Brittle stars, Sea Urchins, Crinoids and Sea Cucumbers are all prominently featured in a clear taxon by taxon layout that features them in brilliant color on glossy paper.

Although it wasn't clear to me that all the photos have been verified by experts, I know that venerable echinoderm grand dame Loisette Marsh has done many of the sea stars-and that's good enough for me!

Where to get: This can be purchased through Neville Coleman's website here and retails for about 60.00 AUS (=56.00 USD) plus shipping.

2. Treasures of the Tropic Seas by Rene Catala.

What it is: Although out-of-print, this remains one of the most unique "coffee-table" type picture books available. Written by Rene Catala (who is now deceased I believe) the former curator of the Aquarium in Noumea, New Caledonia, this book includes MANY beautiful photos of rare and unusual echinoderms from the South Pacific. Specifically New Caledonia.

There are great pictures of the giant Thromidia as well as Luidia and Euretaster in life, doing things that you would NEVER expect to see them doing. Well, worth it, if you can find it.

Plus you get pictures of worms, crabs, and other marine invertebrate stuffs. So a bargain!!

Where to get: As mentioned, OOP, but can currently be found at Amazon for a range between 13-35.00 although I have seen it go as high as 60.

3. A Field Guide to the Marine Invertebrates of South Australia
by Karen Gowlett Holmes
What it is: Karen Gowlett Holmes is a biologist who works for the Australian CSIRO-the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and has done a great job documenting the invertebrate fauna of South Australia.

This is a field guide for a regional fauna in the Southern Hemisphere, which may not be useful to you, as a guide text, if say, you live in northern Europe, but its a cool book and figures MANY fascinating animals that you wouldn't see unless you were doing hundreds of hours of diving in South Australia. Its 333 pages of full color-glossy photographs of temperate water marine invertebrates!! Its the love baby!

What's also unusual about this book is its fidelity. All the animals in this book are vouchered at the South Australian Museum and are formally documented.

Where to get: This can be easily purchased from the authors via Ebay and other natural history book dealers. About 70-75.00 AUS.

4. Sea Stars and Brittle Stars In Japanese Waters by Masaki Saba, Seiichi Irimura with pictures by Isamu Soyama
What it is: There is a dazzling shallow-water echinoderm fauna in Japanese waters-from both tropical and temperate zones and I don't think that most western people realize just how rich it is because of the very distinct cultural gap between Asia (and Japan) versus English-speaking communities. This book does a LOT to show the diversity of starfish and brittle stars from this region.

This book is AWESOME! Beautiful photographs, including several of relatively rare species, including the stunning cover photo of Asterodiscides japonicus but is limited to asteroids and ophiuroids. No sea urchins, holothurians, or crinoids. That being said, there's a lot more room to show variation in color and form. 135 pages (in JAPANESE) of full color photographs. As the Japanese say YATTAH!

Where to get: At first, getting a Japanese book seems daunting, so that's why I'm making it easy for you. Amazon.com JAPAN will accept purchases from English-speaking countries (e.g., the United States) on an English translated website There are certain things to expect of course, increased shipping cost, and etc. but the book is WORTH it. Its a relatively inexpensive book going for only 2520 Yen (=about 29.00 USD) plus shipping.

5. In Deeper Waters by E.H. Chave and A. Malahoff.
What it is: This is one of those kinds of great books that bridges the gap between the hard science and a digestable, public educational product that an interested person can understand.

Basically, its an introductory guide to the operations of the Hawaiian deep-sea operations and diversity operated by my friends at the Hawaiian Undersea Research Laboratory (HURL) at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. It starts out with an intro to submersible operations and geology but the great majority o the book is about deep-sea Hawaiian animals.

There's easily 10 pages full of deep-sea echinoderms to enjoy! Not all of them are correctly identified-but many of them are-and the pictures are good. The latter half of the book is an extended table listing new occurrences and data for deep-sea Hawaiian animals, including invertebrates as well as fish.

Its a useful book for all around!

Where to get: Available via Amazon.com, and can be picked up used for as little as 4.00-but nice paperback and hardcover copies are also available as well as Booklines Hawaii.

Got more? Got recommendations?? Let me know!

Monday, November 30, 2009


First...Go HERE and see this AWESOME video of Antarctic Starfish [Odontaster validus (99% of the ones in the pic) and some Lysasterias (the big white one) thrown in for good measure] feeding on the dead carcass of a dead seal pup!! Ha! take that mammals! And there's some big Antarctic nemertine worms (probably Parborlasia corrugatus) thrown in for good measure!!

What??? You want MORE time lapse???! Here's some Canadian Atlantic species thrown in for good measure! Looks like primarily Leptasterias polaris (big 6 rayed beast) and Solaster endeca (8-12 armed one with stripes)And to the music of Benny Hill no less!

And yet, EVEN MORE Time Lapse video?? here ya'go! A tiny aquarium asterinid extending its stomach out onto the glass to feed!

Finally, here's some Patiria miniata gliding over the bottom of the Pacific!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Video & Images from the Census of Marine Life Big Wrap Up!

So, the big Census of Marine Life is racing towards its final year in 2010 and a big end-of the year press release has hit the media, including the video below!

If ya' skip over all of the jellies and other non-echinoderm (but still pretty cool) animals, towards the end is a GREAT video of the swimming sea cucumber Enypniastes from the Gulf of Mexico!! (shown above):

There's been a flurry of "best of" type photos, including this cool shot of a bunch of brisingids (Novodinia spp.) and a goniasterid (looks like Evoplosoma) perched on a bunch of deep-sea corals in and around New Zealand (>1000 m based on the original captions).
Its a light Echinoblog week but here in the US, its Thanksgiving week, and everything is just a little bit slower! Especially with everything getting colder and darker!

There will continue to be sporadic, light posts this week..with next week back to "normal"...


Monday, November 23, 2009

Echinoblog Holiday Life Lesson # 34

Do NOT mix up your holiday shortbread with cookie-shaped starfish!! (Ceramaster granularis)
(no actual starfish specimens were harmed in the production of this blog)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Pisaster Post! Posterchild or Portent ??

(from MarineBio.net!)
This week, we're talking about the Pacific Northwest Intertidal!!

And what animal is more iconic to this area then Pisaster ochraceus (family Asteriidae)-the familiar intertidal Ochre Star found on rocky, mussel-laden substrates on from Alaska to California to Mexico. Some more basic information is here.Interest on this species has shifted over the years and seems to change based on some of the "big science" of the day. Yet another sign of how the humble starfish has incorporated itself into the fabric of the BIG scientific picture!

So, today some highlights of the importance of the ever-humble intertidal Pisaster ochraceus and how its study has varied over the years....

1. The Keystone Species Concept-Ecology's Posterchild. Probably one of the most lasting ideas from the 1960s and 1970s was the hypothesis developed by ecologist Robert T. Paine who identified Pisaster ochraceus as a keystone species (keystone shown below in grey).To quote Wikipedia:
A keystone species is a species that plays a critical role in maintaining the structure of an ecological community and whose impact on the community is greater than would be expected based on its relative abundance or total biomass
This keystone is a crucial block in an arch that keeps it from collapsing. This is analogous for Pisaster's influence on the mussels and the other invertebrates that exist in a rocky intertidal ecosystem.
The loss of the "keystone species" results in a drastic shift among these species....The idea has endured and while not embraced by everyone- remains a mainstay in basic ecology books. More details on this notion can be found here.

along with its prey, the mussel Mytilus are almost ALWAYS the featured example... the POSTER child for the keysone concept-and for this reason, is probably even better known then the Atlantic Asterias!
This was (and continues to be) an important ecological notion during a time when the ecosystem and ecologists were in ascendance and ecology was a huge primary mainstay of biological research!

2. Pisaster as a Portent of Change?? The Canary in the Cage of Climate Change??
Probably one of the biggest, new research directions these days?

Understanding Climate Change and in turn...increased ocean temperature, which has a HUGE impact!

It affects ocean water chemistry. Water chemistry in turn can change everything from mineral absorption, feeding behavior, physiological systems to larval settlement. These in turn can have influence on MILLIONS of tiny larvae in the water. As well as the MANY adults those starfish grow into.

This translates into many people interested in the effects of increased temperature and heat relative to the ability of common species to adjust. Will Pisaster ochraceus take on a new status as a possible indicator species (i.e., canary in a coal mine) for climate change effects in marine systems?

Here is a survey of three recent studies (2008-2009) that have looked at how Pisaster holds up!

Elevated water temperature and carbon dioxide concentration increase P. ochraceus growth!

(Diagrammatic graph by Echinoblog Art Department!)

Rebecca Gooding, Christopher Harley and Emily Tang at the University of British Columbia published this study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences wherein they found that increases in temperature from 5 to 21 degrees C led to increases in feeding AND overall growth.

This bucked the predictions that the decreased carbon dioxide resulting from increased temperature would prevent animals that use calcium carbonate to form their skeletons (such as coral)!!

Solar radiation plays a role in P. ochraceus habitat selection
(Diagrammatic graph by Echinoblog Art Department!)
A 2008 paper by Jennifer Burnaford and Melissa Vasquez at the University of Puget Sound studied where P. ochraceus occupied habitat and their tolerance of Ultraviolet radiation.
The short version of this-the authors found that in artificial lab experimetns, P. ochraceus avoided ultraviolet and "photosynethetically active radiation" and observations of Pisaster in the intertidal found that 85% of them occurred in shaded habitat underwater where they were shown to preferentially avoid direct exposure to sunlight (see diagrammatic graph above!).

P. ochraceus avoids extreme body temperature by pumping its body full with cold sea water!!

(Diagrammatic graph by Echinoblog Art Department!)

Sylvain Pincebourde, Eric Sanford, and Brian Helmuth recently published this paper (2009). A popular account can be found here (and for shame to Live Science for misspelling "ocher").

Their paper details how Pisaster ochraceus was observed to increase the amount of colder water in their body cavity lowering their body temperature during the subsequent low tide in response to the temperature.

Sense it getting warm? don't like it? Just PUMP IT UP! with cold water! (see diagram above)

But climate change has a huge potential impact on animals that do this...to quote in their words:
When placed in a global change context, these results suggest that a continued increase in ocean temperature may compromise the ability of sea stars to avoid thermal stress during aerial exposure at low tide.
Has the humble Pisaster ochraceus gone from ecological poster child to a possible portent of climate change to come??? Time will tell....

Monday, November 16, 2009

Meet...The Farallons: ROCKY Intertidal Wilderness of San Francisco!!!!

So, one of my esteemed colleagues at the California Academy of Sciences-Dr. Rebecca Johnson Rodgers, who has worked with the Echinoblog while teaching at San Francisco State,is currently out on the Farallon Islands with the Rocky Shore Partnership monitoring various intertidal invertebrate critters. So, I wanted to give them some bloggy love:
Click here for their blog...
For those who are not familiar, the Farallon Islands are some remote islands, about 27 miles outside the Golden Gate Bridge (outside of San Francisco Bay).. Here is the Wikipedia page for the Farallons for more..

But the short version is, that they are remote islands that are protected as a wildlife refuge. The Farallons are great for birdwatching and have lots of great (hopefully still...) pristine intertidal reef habitat.

Plus, as a bunch of rocky islands out on the outskirts of San Francisco Bay, you get lots of this...

Along with many of the classic California invertebrate fauna..

Leptasterias "hexactis", shown here with brooding eggs!! This is part of the Leptasterias species complex which I have written about here and here
and, of course, the good ol' workhorse starfish Pisaster ochraceus, which I will be writing up in the blog later THIS WEEK!!!

and just because they're so dang beautiful...these mollusks too!!! This used to be called Tonicella lineata, but I think the name's been changed recently...
....and back in the Paleozoic when I took Intertidal Ecology, this thing was called Calliostoma, but I gots no idea what the kids are calling it these days!
GO check out the Rocky Shore Partnership BLOG and I'll be back in a few days with some PISASTEROUS starfishy goodness for all o' y'all!